Islam Vs Islam: Is It Old Vs Modernity?

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A recent joke recounted by one of my friends from the pro-left-wing pacifist camp still gets me laughing whenever I remember it.

A young Palestinian teenager ends up in an Israeli jail in Haifa, while his seventy-year old father is complaining to him over the prison phone:

Son, what have you done to us? You have left all of us so helpless. Now was the time to plow the land and plant potatoes for the winter. Who will do that for us now? What shall we feed ourselves for the winter? You know I too old to beg on the streets for the family.

As the father broke down sobbing and the son became overwhelmed with guilt, a thought occurred to him.
Father, whatever you do, just do not tell the Israeli Army the location of the buried cache of weapons in the land.

The next day, the father was in a very joyous mood when he called his son again over the prison phone:
Oh my dearest Son! You are such a blessing to us from Allah. Thank you so much for plowing the land for us the whole night.

Apparently, the Israeli Army had bulldozed the entire plot of land and turned it upside down that night looking for the ˜secret™ cache of weapons.

Almost a year has passed since the collapse of the World Trade Center, which has made Islam a more popular topic than probably even Super League Baseball in the United States. The Holy Quran has now become a bestseller at book stores and a large horde of American writers wishing to make their writing more profitable have chosen the timely topic of Islam and the West. As this frenzy of trying to understand Islam continues, I often ask myself if this Western approach to uncover a seemingly belligerent faith that appears threatening to their sense of Freedom and Liberty has really made much progress. I also ask what constructive actions have the faith-holders (the Muslims, in case the readers didnt know) taken to promote a truer representation of their religion. The answer is perhaps a dismalLITTLE if not NOTHING. The violence in the Mid-East has only gotten worse with more people dying on both sides. The campaign in Afghanistan by the most powerful nation on earth continues unabated with the President, the most powerful man on earth, having no clue as to where the real culprit behind the WTC bombing really is. And take for example the recent incident at the University of North Carolina where public pressure has led the authorities to take down a course on Islam. The case began when a University of North Carolina chose Professor Michael Sells book, “Approaching the Qur’an” for one of its courses. For obvious reasons, the University felt that interest in Islam had increased among the student population and hence the new course. Students were required to read the book – a translation into English of passages from Islam’s holy book – as part of a first-year course. But a group called the American Family Association Center, claimed that the university’s requirement to read the book violated their First Amendment rights. It added that the book did not present a full picture of Islam, as it did not contain passages cited by Islamic militants as justification for acts of terror.

The universitys religious Professor Carl W. Ernst eventually summed up the whole sad incident, when he said it is easy to take phrases out of context from any sacred book, and this is part of a long history of anti-Islamic bias akin to anti-Semitism or even racism. It seems that while teachings and studies in Islam here in America have gone up drastically in the last year, the attitudes of the main stream Western public or Muslims have changed little. In recent arguments and debates, the big issue is not about Islam versus the West, but more on Islam versus Islam and how Modernity fits in the riddle that Muslim Intelligentsia are asking these days. Are Islam and Modernism two mutually exclusive things bound to a clash at some point in future?

One such question has been pursued by Roger Hardy, a BBC Islamic Affairs Analyst in his recent thesis titled Investigating Islam Struggle for Modernity. He starts his investigation in Egypt and then goes on to travel to the other major Muslim nations of today Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. In Turkey he discovers how strong Kemalism still is and how paranoidly insecure the Government and the Army feel at the slightest public display of Islam. In Iran, he finds out how the youth are pressuring for change, realizing the many failures of the Islamic Revolution 22 years ago and that a compromising attitude is required to dwell with Modernity in the Islamic Framework. In Pakistan, he summarizes his journey stating that the situation is most perilous there because of the extremism that has taken root over the last 20 years.

I just wish Roger Hardy had taken his journey a little further east to get the bigger picture, first stopping in Western India. In Gujrat, a Western Indian State, he could have discovered how Muslims themselves also face the problems now facing the West. He could find out more about the root causes of the massacres of Muslims by a State orchestrated Hindu dominated framework. Even further east, in Bangladesh, he would see how this over-populated Muslim nation burdened with natural disaster and economic problems is struggling to survive. He would probably be amazed at the fact that despite the young age of institutionalized democracy, this fledgling nation already boasts two female heads of states in one decade. There is more than 10% female representation in the country law making and a more than 50% representation in the country main foreign income generator (The Garment Industry). Now, forget the United States, but how many European countries can beat that record, even today, huh? A little further east in Malaysia, Roger Hardy would probably want to reassess his findings on Islam and Modernity that he gathered in the Middle East. This is where he would see the world tallest towers (Petronas Twin Towers), East Asia first semiconductor chip making factory (in Penang) and the first brand of indigenously built cars (Protons) that are even exported to Europe. And yet the country has a 65% Muslim majority where almost all women go to work with their headscarves on not because they have to, but because they love to display their sense of empowerment in a society that does not treat them like a commodity as the West would have. Roger Hardy would also discover that Malaysia has been a country more ruthless and heavy handed in its dealings against Islamic terrorism than the US Govt. can match up to.

A book half quoted is like quoting out of context and even misinterpreting it. Like many among us are doing today in America against Islam and the Holy Quran under the banner of protecting Freedom and Liberty. A world only half seen, is not the whole world explored. BBC Roger Hardy has made this mistake when he completed his Investigations on Islam and Modernity, bypassing the more populous Muslims nations far ahead in Modern Islamic thinking than the rest. And the West must realize that they have to do their homework more thoroughly if they are really sincere about achieving a long term and non-violent solution to protecting their Freedom and Liberty. We, the Muslims, need to ask ourselves where exactly we stand today in our respective countries and what would be the best strategy to synergize Islam and Modernity for the 21st century and onwards.

So, when it comes to Islam vs. Islam in the greater picture of Islam versus Modernity, the following comments the most thought provoking: Says a certain Mr. Mohsen Sazagara, If you involve religion in governmental affairs, if you involve religion in military affairs and you make religion an ordered religion, then you can be sure that you will damage the religion more than everything. I think that it would be better to get rid of Islamism to save Islam.

And another noted authority on Islam, Mohsen Kadivar, had the following to say; There are two ways of looking at modernity. The first is to say it’s like a suit made by a Western tailor – a suit that only fits Western society. The second way is to look at modernity as a concept which started in the West but doesn’t have either a Western or an Eastern identity.

Which one are we going to pick?